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Damage in Northwest D.C. after modest protests

Groups peaceful for the most part

- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2013

A handful of protest activity was reported around Monday's inaugural celebrations, with the most serious incident occurring hours before the ceremony when demonstrators marching through the Chinatown neighborhood in Northwest Washington smashed windows at a bank and a Hooters restaurant.

A group of 50 to 60 protesters was making its way down Seventh Street Northwest in the early morning hours Monday when several members of the group destroyed property at two banks and a restaurant, Metropolitan Police Department officials said.

The screen of an ATM machine for the DVA Federal Credit Union at 801 I St. NW was smashed by protesters, as was the front window of the nearby M&T Bank, said Officer Araz Alali, a police department spokesman. Yellow paint also was thrown on the M&T Bank.

The group then descended on the Chinatown Hooters and smashed a front window, Officer Alali said.

"Anti-government and anti-police" literature was left at one of the locations, Officer Alali said.

The police department's Civil Disturbance Unit was dispatched to the crime scene, but the protesters had scattered by the time officers arrived, and no arrests were made, Officer Alali said.

Police said the unit monitored other groups of protesters, including demonstrators who gathered in the morning at McPherson Square in Northwest, but no disturbances were reported.

"A lot of people out there are pretty orderly," Officer Alali said.

Beating plastic bucket drums and holding peace signs and black cloth flags, a group of about 40 protesters gathered in McPherson Square at noon as President Obama was being sworn in.

"We're making it clear that there is nothing to celebrate," said Brian, who would only give his first name but is associated with the environmental group Earth First. "We're trying to cut through this false idea that Obama has been good for the environment. That's why we're here today."

As the group assembled, preparing to march, a young woman pointed out a man she believed to be an undercover police officer and warned others on a bullhorn of his presence. Uniformed police stood nearby, watching the group as they gathered but having little interaction other than exchanging glances.

Three groups were authorized to be along the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route, National Park Service officials said, but their presence was small with few protesters assembling at staging areas before the inaugural parade began. Metropolitan police reported at least one brief street closure as protesters blocked traffic in the area of 16th and K streets in Northwest early Monday afternoon.

"Whatever demonstrations or small gatherings there were, we handled them well," U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Shennell Antrobus said. "They turned out fairly well for an event this size."

A few dozen protesters with the ANSWER Coalition, a peace and social justice group, gathered at Freedom Plaza near the White House to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and call for jobs, not war. Brian Becker, director of the coalition, said the group chose to focus on messages that would resonate with a pro-Obama crowd. In addition to a poster focusing on the late civil rights leader, protesters held signs saying "Indict Bush Now" and "Drone Strikes (equals) War Crimes."

By the time Mr. Obama's motorcade passed Freedom Plaza, only a smattering of the coalition's posters — some of which littered the ground while others were clutched tightly by tourists like souvenirs — left any indication of their earlier presence.

Instead of traditional issue-centered protest posters, as the president passed Freedom Plaza two independent artists hoisted up a bevy of black and white signs with messages such as "The right to end poverty" or simply "human rights."

"I'm not here in any way to provoke anything," said New York City-based artist Laurie Arbeiter as she alternated holding several of the 41 signs she brought to the parade.

Rather, Ms. Arbeiter said she hoped to engage people in conversation about some of the topics mentioned in her signs' messages and to encourage people to participate by finding a sign with a message that spoke to them. Intense security led Ms. Arbeiter and fellow artists to rotate through the signs themselves as officials told them they would be escorted out of the secure area surrounding the parade route if they distributed any signs.

U.S. Capitol Police said three people were arrested during the inaugural festivities, but only one arrest — a man who climbed a tree — was protest-related. The man was seen clinging to the top of a tree in front of the U.S. Capitol screaming loudly about abortion.

Another man was arrested after law enforcement officials discovered he had an open warrant and a final person was arrested for being intoxicated in public, Mr. Antrobus said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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